The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment unknowns await returning lawmakers

The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment unknowns await returning lawmakers
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The impeachment battle is set to resume in the coming days as Congress returns to Washington amid the high stakes fight between Democratic leaders and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellProfessional sports players associations come out against coronavirus liability protections Democratic leaders report 'some progress' in talks with White House Top GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations MORE (R-Ky.). 

Even following the holidays, the freeze in Senate trial negotiations between McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMeadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery MORE (D-N.Y.) lingers. The two leaders have not spoken with one other since their meeting before the Christmas break. 

Adding to the troubles in negotiations, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video Trump says he's considering executive action to suspend evictions, payroll tax Trump won't say if he disagrees with Birx that virus is widespread MORE (D-Calif.) continues to hold onto the pair of articles of impeachment against President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE, drawing the ire of Republicans across Congress.  

As Jordain Carney notes in her all-encompassing look at the situation, McConnell’s first chance to respond to Schumer and Pelosi will be today as the Senate reconvenes at noon for the first time after the holidays.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerCongress botched the CFPB's leadership — here's how to fix it White House, Senate GOP clash over testing funds Prioritizing access to care: Keeping telehealth options for all Americans MORE (R-Neb.), an adviser to the GOP leader, said this week that she had not received an update from McConnell since lawmakers left town. Asked about the negotiations, a spokesman for the GOP leader pointed to McConnell’s floor speech from mid-December saying the remarks “still stand.” 

“We remain at an impasse because my friend the Democratic leader continues to demand a new and different set of rules for President Trump,” McConnell said at the time. 

With Pelosi continuing to hold onto the articles, Senate Republicans are starting to zero in on her handling of the situation since the House voted on Dec. 18 to impeach Trump on two charges. Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyMcConnell: 15-20 GOP senators will not vote for any coronavirus deal Trump plans to order Chinese company to sell TikTok's US operations: reports Hillicon Valley: Trump raises idea of delaying election, faces swift bipartisan pushback | Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google release earnings reports | Senators ask Justice Department to investigate TikTok, Zoom MORE (R-Mo.) brushed aside McConnell’s statements that the GOP-led Senate must hold a trial whenever it receives the impeachment articles and announced on Thursday that he will introduce a motion next week to dismiss impeachment due to “lack of prosecution” by the House (The Hill). 

“Dems said impeachment was URGENT. Now they don’t want to have a trial, because they have no evidence. In [the] real world, if prosecution doesn’t proceed with case, it gets dismissed. So on Monday, I will introduce measure to dismiss this bogus impeachment for lack of prosecution,” Hawley wrote on Twitter. “This will expose Dems’ circus for what it is: a fake impeachment, abuse of the Constitution, based on no evidence. If Dems won’t proceed with trial, bogus articles should be dismissed and @realDonaldTrump fully cleared.” 

The Hill: Pelosi faces decision on articles of impeachment.

Politico: Why Democrats say they might not vote to convict Trump.

CNN: All eyes on McConnell as Senate returns Friday.

On the Democratic side, they zeroed in on a batch of newly-released emails concerning the president’s decision to delay handing over aid to Ukraine, saying it shows why the Senate should call top Trump administration officials to testify at the impending trial (The Hill).  

“The newly-revealed unredacted emails are a devastating blow to Senator McConnell’s push to have a trial without the documents and witnesses we’ve requested," Schumer said in a statement. "These emails further expose the serious concerns raised by Trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president’s decision to cut off aid to Ukraine to benefit himself."  

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Nunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (D-Calif.) said that the emails between officials at the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon are part of a trove of documents that need to be produced in order to conduct a “fair trial.”  

The Washington Post: Democrats seize on report to press for key witnesses in Senate impeachment trial. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinMini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors Doug Collins questions Loeffler's trustworthiness in first TV ad Comedian Joel McHale: Reach out and help local restaurants, wear masks with your favorite message; Frontline Foods's Ryan Sarver says we are in inning 3 of the COVID-19 ballgame MORE (D-Calif.) called on her Senate colleagues to support Schumer’s call for key witnesses to appear and for all Ukraine-related documents to be produced for the impending trial. 

The effort among Democrats will need 51 votes to prove successful, including from four GOP senators, which remains a steep climb in itself as most Republicans support a swift trial. 

Scott Jennings, a McConnell adviser, told The Hill that Republicans should “lock arms” behind McConnell’s floated framework of passing an initial resolution on the rules and punting the decision on witnesses until after the trial starts, similar to the Clinton proceedings in 1999.

“Republicans just don’t think this is an impeachable item,” he said. “They’re just not going to throw the president out of office over it." 

 

 

LEADING THE DAY

IRAN & IRAQ: A targeted U.S. strike in Iraq on Thursday that killed the powerful commander of Iran’s Quds Force is a direct confrontation with Tehran and escalates Trump’s retaliatory posture following the death of an American contractor in Iraq last month.

The Pentagon described the U.S. drone attack at Baghdad International Airport, which killed Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq and five others, as “defensive action.” In a statement, the Defense Department said Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

Middle East experts warned that Iran’s leaders are treating Soleimani’s killing as an act of war. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the United States. Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the strike “extremely dangerous and foolish.” 

The Trump administration said it anticipates possible retaliatory attacks by Tehran, including terrorism and cyberattacks, and was preparing. 

Members of Congress and Democratic presidential candidates hailed Soleimani’s death while also underscoring the deepening risks unleashed between the United States and Iran.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump campaign emails supporters encouraging mask-wearing: 'We have nothing to lose' Cuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks MORE called on the president, who is scheduled to remain in Florida and speak this evening to political supporters, to publicly explain U.S. policy with Iran as well as next steps. 

President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond,” Biden said in a statement.

The Associated Press: U.S. kills Iran’s most powerful general in airstrike.

The New York Times: Soleimani cast a long shadow over the Middle East.

Reuters: Iran promises to avenge Soleimani’s killing.

The Washington Post: Iran and its proxies may be planning fresh attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq, according to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDemocrats demand Esper explicitly ban Confederate flag and allow Pride, Native Nations flags Trump's revenge — pulling troops from Germany — will be costly Africa Command ordered to plan headquarters move as part of Trump's Germany withdrawal MORE

The Hill: Trump’s initial reaction on Thursday to the drone strike he ordered was a tweet of the American flag. 

The New Yorker: 2013 profile about Soleimani by Dexter Filkins: “The Shadow Commander.”

 

 

***

 

POLITICS & CAMPAIGNS: The Democratic field battled for financial supremacy on Thursday as campaigns continued to reveal fourth-quarter fundraising figures while boasting that financial prowess foreshadows success in the Iowa caucuses.  

Boosted by a strong couple of months and the recent downturn of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks Overnight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response MORE’s (D-Mass.) campaign, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersCuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Trump Spanish-language ad equates progressives, socialists Biden's tax plan may not add up MORE (I-Vt.) revealed Wednesday that his campaign raised a mind-boggling $34.5 million in the final three months of 2019 and $96 million since he started his campaign in February. 

Emboldened by the fundraising news, Sanders went on to train his fire on Biden, perhaps his preeminent rival for the Democratic nod, taking a direct shot at Biden’s central argument for election. Sanders told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa in an interview that there is no excitement behind Biden’s campaign and that he won’t win against Trump in November. 

“It’s just a lot of baggage that Joe takes into a campaign, which isn’t going to create energy and excitement,” Sanders said. “He brings into this campaign a record which is so weak that it just cannot create the kind of excitement and energy that is going to be needed to defeat Donald Trump.” 

The remark came days after Sanders needled Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) over her “Medicare for All” plan, arguing that she wouldn’t move as fast as he would at rolling out his plan if elected in November (The Hill). 

On Thursday, Biden announced his strongest fundraising performance since entering the race last spring, posting $22.7 million in the last three months. His campaign team hopes his improvement over his $15 million third-quarter tally will quell voter and donor concerns heading into early voting states (The Hill). 

As Jonathan Easley notes, high-level fundraising by Sanders, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegFormer Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan dies How Republicans can embrace environmentalism and win In politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over MORE and Andrew YangAndrew YangIs this the end of the 'college experience'? Biden campaign to take over 'Supernatural' star's Instagram for interview Hillicon Valley: Justice Department announces superseding indictment against WikiLeaks' Assange | Facebook ad boycott gains momentum | FBI sees spike in coronavirus-related cyber threats | Boston city government bans facial recognition technology MORE continues to indicate a thirst among Democratic voters for insurgents, outsiders and fresh faces in politics, part of an enduring push for disruption in Washington ahead of November. For Sanders and Buttigieg, it was the second consecutive quarter in which they topped Biden, who is still considered to be part of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. 

“What people are saying with their dollars, and not just Democrats but on the Republican side too, is that they want someone who will disrupt the system, not just be a part of it,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina. “It’s easier for candidates to be against something, than to be for something, it’s quite easy to argue that Washington is a bad animal. There’s a real thirst to restore power back to the people from a grassroots perspective, and that’s what you’re seeing with these heavy hauls from the outsiders.” 

The fundraising numbers continued to roll in this morning as Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery GOP sparks backlash after excluding election funds from COVID-19 bill Hillicon Valley: Feds warn hackers targeting critical infrastructure | Twitter exploring subscription service | Bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE (D-Minn.) announced that her team raised $11.4 million in the fourth quarter, by far her best mark of the 2020 cycle as she hopes to peak with Iowa on the horizon. Previously, Klobuchar raised $4.8 million in the third quarter of 2019, and she is one of only five candidates to have qualified for the first Democratic debate of 2020, which is set for January 14 in Des Moines (The Hill). 

The wait continues for other Democratic candidates, but none more so than Warren, the only top tier contender who has not released fourth quarter figures. 

Politico: Dems rocket into 2020 with huge donor windfall.

Bloomberg News: Sanders, Buttigieg raise enough money to make 2020 a long race.

NBC News: Can Amy Klobuchar pull off a February surprise?

The Associated Press: As 2020 dawns, Trump looks to boost evangelical support.

> Castro out: Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro announced Thursday that he is ending his primary campaign, having been unable to break through with Democratic voters during his year long bid. 

“I’m so proud of the campaign we’ve run together. We’ve shaped the conversation on so many important issues in this race, stood up for the most vulnerable people and given a voice to those who are often forgotten,” Castro said in a video message to supporters. “But with only a month until the Iowa caucuses, and given the circumstances of this campaign season, I have determined that it simply isn’t our time.” 

Castro was excluded from the December primary debate after failing to garner enough support in polls or from donors to participate. After he entered the primary contest, the former mayor made immigration the hallmark of his campaign, showcased by his sharp back-and-forth during the June debate with fellow Texan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who dropped out of the presidential race on Nov. 1.

Castro also made headlines when he called for the Democratic Party to boot Iowa from its spot as the first contest on the primary calendar, pointing to the lack of diversity in the state (The Hill). 

Houston Chronicle: San Antonio’s Julián Castro ends quest for Democratic presidential nomination.

The Associated Press: Castro’s exit is latest blow to diversity of 2020 field.

 

 

In other 2020 news … Former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergHillicon Valley: Trump raises idea of delaying election, faces swift bipartisan pushback | Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google release earnings reports | Senators ask Justice Department to investigate TikTok, Zoom Meme group joins with Lincoln Project in new campaign against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump pivots on convention; GOP punts on virus bill MORE did not file to appear on the ballot for the Nevada caucuses as he moves ahead with his plans to not compete in the first four early state primaries on the Democratic nominating calendar (Politico) … Longshot Democratic candidate Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson touts endorsements for progressive congressional candidates The Hill's 12:30 Report: Warren becomes latest 2020 rival to back Biden The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden looks to stretch lead in Tuesday contests MORE laid off her entire campaign staff on Thursday, although she maintains that she is not dropping her bid for the party’s nomination (The Hill).

IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES

VAPING: Following months of bold Trump pronouncements accompanied by second thoughts from the administration about how to crack down on an epidemic of teen vaping without alienating voters and businesses, the government on Thursday unveiled a limited federal ban on certain flavors of cartridge-based e-cigarettes. The regulatory action stopped short of where Trump initially told the public he intended to go to protect young people (The Hill). 

Last year, Trump admirers peppered the government with arguments that vaping products help adults quit smoking cigarettes. On Twitter, fans of e-cigarettes used a hashtag: #WeVapeWeVote.  

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Thursday it will strip the market of popular fruit and mint pod-based flavors, but not tobacco and menthol. Pod-based products, such as those manufactured by Juul and NJOY, are the most popular among teens. 

The announcement is perceived as a victory for free market groups and the vaping industry, which pressured the administration to change course from its earlier move toward a total flavor ban, arguing it would put independent vape shops out of business and cost jobs. 

Open tank e-cigarette systems, which are not as popular with young consumers as cartridge-based e-cigarettes, will be exempt from the government’s policy, even though such systems use flavored “e-liquids.”

According to the FDA, companies that do not stop manufacturing, distributing and selling unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes other than tobacco or menthol within 30 days of the publication of new federal guidance risk enforcement actions.

The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: asimendinger@thehill.com and aweaver@thehill.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!

 

OPINION

Iran is losing its grip on Iraq, by Ray Takeyh, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2QhyQWQ 

Phase two of the U.S.-China trade deal will be more challenging, not less, by Nick Sargen, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/2sGxCLJ

WHERE AND WHEN

Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute For Responsible Statecraft, to react to Soleimani’s death; Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, to discuss the media and Sanders’s presidential bid; and Aaron Maté, host of “The Pushback,” to talk about foreign policy in the 2020 campaign. Coverage starts at 9 a.m. ET at http://thehill.com/hilltv or on YouTube at 10 a.m. at Rising on YouTube

The House convenes on Tuesday with the second session of the 116th Congress officially beginning at noon today.

The Senate returns to work and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to speak from the Senate floor at noon. The next votes in the chamber are scheduled on Monday.  

The president addresses his campaign’s launch of “Evangelicals for Trump” in Miami, Fla., at 5 p.m. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears oral arguments at 9:30 a.m. on whether former White House counsel Don McGahn must comply with a House subpoena to testify about the Mueller investigation (C-SPAN live coverage). The D.C. Circuit also will hear oral arguments at 10:30 a.m. regarding House lawmakers’ request to unseal grand jury testimony and documents from the Mueller probe.

ELSEWHERE

Fugitive: Nissan’s ex-chairman Carlos Ghosn, who fled his home in Tokyo in dramatic fashion to seek refuge in Lebanon to evade trial on financial misconduct charges, is now the target of an Interpol arrest warrant. Lebanese officials on Thursday suggested they plan to cooperate (The Associated Press). Japanese officials are trying to solve the mystery behind Ghosn’s getaway (CNN). Turkish authorities have questioned seven people about the former auto executive’s clandestine ability to exit Tokyo and make his way to Beirut (The New York Times).  

Best diets?: Shedding pounds and eating better are common New Year’s resolutions. According to diet rankings published by U.S. News & World Report and created by a panel of 25 nutrition, obesity and other experts, the Mediterranean Diet snagged the top overall spot for the third year in a row. Trimming or eliminating added sugar in foods is another sure-fire formula for better health, cognition and energy levels (The New York Times). 

Philadelphia: Two men wore blackface while marching in the city's annual (and often controversial) New Year's Day Mummers Parade, sparking sharp public criticism from City of Brotherly Love Mayor Jim Kenney. A group with whom the men apparently were affiliated was disqualified from the parade and may experience additional penalties as the controversy continued to swirl on Thursday. The men in question said their face makeup was not racist (The Associated Press).

 

 

THE CLOSER

And finally … Brush fires have taken a harsh toll on Australia’s animal kingdom since September. Ecologists estimate that nearly half a billion animals have perished because of the infernos (The New York Post). Yet, some Australian zoo animals, including monkeys and pandas, were rescued in the nick of time, thanks to some heroic interventions by zoo administrators and staff, who turned wild animals (including one tiger) into temporary backyard houseguests to save them (The Washington Post). 

Key features of Australia’s disaster are under intense study, including ways to prevent such fires, climate and weather changes Down Under and the impact of the devastation on celebrated species (The Hill).

Bushfires this season have killed at least 10 people, and 28 remain missing. The fires scorched more than 10 million acres of Australian bushland and destroyed more than 1,000 homes, including 381 structures that burned to the ground on the south coast this week (Reuters).